Tabula Escriba - On Egality and Equality

Race and gender(*) are regions of potential difference in humanity, areas where natural variation in the human form is associated with behavioural differences stemming from a variety of sources, potentially cultural or genetic. The overlap between racial and cultural groupings can be complex, particularly when traditions create parallel structures to these. As two examples, we shall consider Jewishness and sexual identity.

We point out four sets of groups with a high amount of overlap and claim for Jewish identity. First, we consider Hebrew ethnicity, which is close to a natural category (in that it is broadly recognisable outside the moores of any cultural group) - this measures the degree to which one has blood/genetic ties to the Hebrew subcategory of the larger Arabic genetic grouping of humanity. Second, we consider Judaism, representing whether and which specific strand of Judaism, a faith largely (theoretically exclusive by most accounts) practiced by Jews is held. Third, we consider cultural Jewishness - the degree to which one is part of Jewish culture. Finally, we consider Halachic Jewishness, a separate, binary (in theory) category representing whether one is Jewish by Halacha (that is, either bound by matrilineal descent or being a convert by some reasonably broadly accepted standard). Our ability to seperate and define these categories does not diminish that in common use either one is seen as essential by a particular speaker or their conflation in practice is seen as a strong good by norms of the community.

Sexual identity, sex, and gender have a similarly complex relationship tinged with politics. Sex is generally understood to be a reference to biological traits of an individual (often but not exclusively one's genetics). Sexual dimorphism begins in the womb shaping many aspects of human development, from gross form of the body to brain development. Gender identity is part of one's general social identity, often incorporating sexual preference in partners, the mix of characteristics in one's society and in the species one chooses to emphasise in oneself, and occasionally involving using markers traditionally reserved for the other sex. There are many frameworks of sexual identity. For some people, gender is synonymous with gender, for others it is synonymous with sex (the latter is true for me). The relative primacy of gender identity versus sex also is an area of difference - I prefer the simpler position of using modes of addressing and thought that are in common with other forms of life (which do not have gender identities), thinking of and addressing people by their biological sex and paying little to no attention to gender identity (also not asserting a gender identity-to-sex correlation as a good). This is an area of potential difference.

Liberals, understanding that the actual differences between the sexes and races of humanities (at least sofar as we understand sex and race to be the most biological versions of those terms we can muster, e.g. matters of XX-vs-XY and the clouds of genetics that are races) to be an area of fact within the realm of science, are committed to four things on the topic. First, until and unless reliable research arrives or the differences are clearly apparent in a topic, we are committed to assume that the races and genders are all nearly identical in capability and tendency. Second, as tempered by actual difference, we are committed to social policies and values that neither specifically segregate nor designate different tasks or roles for particular races or either sex (we may have policies aiming to redress past problems in this regard). We explicitly reject "separate but equal" for "common paths" we pave through society for people except those based on the most solid research (e.g. pregnancy, sickle-cell anemia). Third, we commit to combat undue efforts to manipulate these intrinsic bits of identity in people to achieve specific and differing "soft norms" such as particular cultural or gender identities. Soft, nonobligatory forms of these ties between intrinsic identity and social identity are acceptable (we do not take a position on them as being good or bad, although variants on our philosophy are free to take a more specific stance). We recognise that race or sex do not determine one's actual racial-social identity or one's gender-identity and that while there is often an overlap, odd pairings or people who create new social identities regardless of either of these existing. Finally, we commit to recognising that while groups of people have specific characteristics, these manifest in individuals in varying ways, and there is significant overlap in the Venn diagrams for most particular traits for sex and race. Paving paths for general tendencies in a race or sex can easily be stifling or inappropriate given that certain members of either might be rather different than the norm for their intrinsic identities.

Pat Gunn (aka Improv) <>